the escape

Tkaronto was built in the ruins of Toronto.

It took decades of flooding, famine, bloodshed, and every other manner of catastrophe for the World Union to decide Toronto was a lost cause. But when they did, they finally gave the land back to the Indigenous peoples who had rightfully held claim to it for aeons and aeons before the World Union.

“The circle begins anew,” the Council of Tkaronto said on the day of the city’s repatriation. “The settlers continue to fight the battles of their ancestors. And we now live freely on the land of our own ancestors.”

Many relics of Toronto still remain in Tkaronto. The legendary CN Tower, once the tallest tower in the world, now lies half-submerged in the swollen shores of the great Lake Ontario. Its fallen concrete shaft is caked with moss and ivy, its steel spire lined with satellite dishes and gun turrets. Trees and gardens and solar panels hang from the sides of Bay Street’s flooded post-cyberpunk condos. Fishes feast from tall weeds and algae blooms in the decadently marbled lobbies of College Park. Drone docks and delivery boats poke out from lake-level windows above what was once Queen Street. Gulls caw and screech as the midsummer tide slaps up against the crumbled stone towers of the old parliament building.

The spiteful sun roars over the flooded cityscape. The lake slowly boils away, casting a dome of stifling humidity over Tkaronto.

Rumor has it that the clever Council of Tkaronto brokered a very special treaty with the World Union: stay off our land, or we will destroy yours.

Rumor has it that, amidst the carnage of the War, a brave group of warriors managed to salvage 100 nuclear warheads from a massacred airbase up north, not far from Hudson Bay.

Rumor has it that those 100 warheads were secretly planted deep under the World Union’s shining new capital, the megacity of Hudson, just before it was built.

Rumor has it that the Council of Tkaronto carries the detonation codes with them at all times.

Rumor has it that if Tkaronto is ever attacked by the World Union, Hudson will be instantaneously annihilated.

There are plenty of rumors of war in Tkaronto, but Alex and Carson do their best to avoid them. Everyone calls them Viv and Joel now, and everyone knows that Viv and Joel make the best mint cookies and BBQ pork belly in town. Everyone knows that if you need anything at all—a hot meal, help building a new boat, or even a computer tune-up—Viv and Joel will always be there to help.

They’ve lived here peacefully for nearly a decade, cozied away in a quiet pocket of the city’s east end. They live out of the top floor of a half-flooded townhouse. Its warm old bricks overlook the emerald trees of a calm, sparkling riverbank that used to be a valley. Their little sanctuary.

Their neighbors are all so kind, mostly other refugees from World Union territory. Everyone knows that Viv and Joel used to live in Hudson and Dallas. Everyone knows that Viv and Joel fled from persecution at the hands of World Security.

But nobody knows their full story. Nobody knows their deadnames.

“Look!” Viv surveys the tall green stalks and breathy leaves of their rooftop garden. “The sunflowers are blooming early this year!”

“Hmmm, that’s strange.” Joel moseys across the garden with a yawn. He sets his hands around Viv’s hips as her sleepy mint green sundress flutters in the hot morning breeze. “They look a lil’ dull this year.”

“You’re right, something’s off about them.” Viv reaches up to a flower with a raised brow. She runs her fingers through its drab yellow petals. “So strange.”

Viv shrugs. “Oh well, still early in the season. Plenty of time left for them to keep growing.” She steps up into his tight chest, strokes his curly fringes of long oaky hair. Joel runs his hand away from her hip. He traces his fingers across her back and up her neck. They close their eyes and sway into each other’s lips.

Viv opens her eyes, squints at his moustache. She pushes away from his chest with a playful smile. “You haven’t brushed your teeth yet this morning, have you?”

“No ma’am,” Joel chuckles. “Just got up and started gettin’ breakfast ready for us. Huevos rancheros. You in?”

“Mmm tasty.” Viv smacks her lips and turns back up to admire her sunflowers. “Did you get the eggs from the chicken lady across the river?”

“Yes ma’am, they’re fresh as can be.”

“Oh, then I’m totally in,” Viv turns back to him with bright eyes. “Need any help?”

“Nah, I think I’m good babe.” Joel strolls back across the rooftop, down the wooden stairs and into the house. “You just hang tight up here and I’ll get ‘er all fixed up for us.”

Viv smiles and turns back down to the river. Big exhale. The sun-soaked riverbank fills with the buzzing of cicadas, the zipping of dragonflies. Flowing gentle brooks yawn out into the distant great lake. Little canoes row across the sapphire expanse. The skyline is dotted and flecked with concrete ruins and waterlocked glass spires of a bygone time.

Viv strolls across her rooftop farm. She scans all the flowers and herbs and fruits and vegetables of her sun-kissed garden. Gardener instincts activate: a tiny crop of peppermint in the far corner seems a bit off, she walks over to the mint leaves and gazes closer, smaller than they should be for mid-July, not dying but not thriving, pale green with a few crispy edges. Disease? Too much sun? Bad fertilizer? It has been unusually hot this summer—the heat dome over the lake keeps getting worse every year. Bad feedback loop. The mint probably just needs more water. But what’s wrong with the sunflowers? Their color is off too. Are the sunflowers and the peppermint crop both spoiled this year? Something’s not quite right here.

She takes a big, fresh breath in from her plants. She nestles Joel’s sunflower deeper into her shimmering braids. Big exhale. No stress for now. Just relax until breakfast. She’ll give the peppermint crop some extra care when she makes her watering rounds this afternoon.

In her big wicker chair at the edge of the rooftop, she gazes back out at the quiet river below and the ancient lake in the distance. The sun pulses down harder and harder as it climbs the morning sky, pounding at her big straw hat. But she doesn’t mind. Her systems can handle a little extra heat.

Sitting at her big wicker table, she wraps a thread of willow across a wooden hoop, her fine fingers slowly and tenderly weaving together the web of a dreamcatcher. Once a month, she rides her hoverjet way down the lake to a craft exchange over in New Mississauga. Her friend Cass is always there. They always tell stories and make new gadgets together. When Viv’s night terrors were at their worst, Cass taught Viv how to make dreamcatchers.

“My auntie used to tell me that the Spider Mother was there when the Great Serpent made this world out of the rubble of the before-world,” Cass explained to Viv. “It was the Spider Mother who took all the good spirits left over from the before-world and weaved them into the plants and the creatures and the rivers and the people. But this made the Great Serpent very upset, because now there were no good spirits left for him to eat.”

“So what did the Great Serpent do?” Viv asked as she plucked at the loose mesh of her dreamcatcher. “Did he try to eat all the good spirits anyways?”

“Yep,” Cass shook her head. “The way my auntie told it, our people spread too far from the Spider Mother’s web, so she couldn’t protect us from the Great Serpent anymore when we went to sleep. So the Spider Mother gave us dreamcatchers.”

Viv threads the willow around the hoop and stretches it into a tight spiderweb, her thoughts all tangled up in her memories. “The dreamcatcher catches all the bad spirits created by the Great Serpent,” Cass continued. “Sends them back into the Spider Mother’s web. Then she threads them into some other part of some other world. Leaves you with only good spirits. Good dreams.”

“But what do the bad spirits do then?” Viv asked Cass. “Won’t someone else have bad dreams instead of me?”

“Dunno,” Cass shrugged. “Maybe some other version of you will have bad dreams. In some other world. Maybe the Great Serpent will even try to eat that other version of you in one of their bad dreams. But that’s all for the Spider Mother to decide.”

Viv stares into her dreamcatcher: something’s wrong. The wooden web she’s woven isn’t quite symmetrical. Not good for catching bad spirits.

“Hey Cass,” Viv asked her. “Didn’t you tell me this story last time I came to visit? Wasn’t it slightly different last time you told it?”

“Probably,” Cass smiled. “Stories change. That’s part of what makes them so fun.”

Viv sets the dreamcatcher down on the table. She looks up to see Joel setting down two hefty white mugs. “Your fave,” he smiles. A warm cloud of peppermint wafts up from the mugs. “I’ll be right back with the food, babe.”

Viv smiles up at him. She gazes back out at the waters and forests of Tkaronto. A few tiny motorboats and delivery drones twinkle in the horizon. But one twinkle catches Viv’s keen eye: a strange little dragonfly hovering gently over the riverbank, buzzing across the sky and peering up at their cherished home. She can’t quite explain why, but something feels off about this dragonfly. Before she can get a closer look, it vanishes into thin air.

Combat instincts kick in. Viv squints at the spot where the twinkling dragonfly just was, focuses her warrior gaze, 100x zoom, it’s nearly invisible in the light, in infrared, in sonar vision, in x-ray vision too, but there it is: a tiny World Union bio-drone in the image of a dragonfly, its slender tail covered in stealthy mirrored wings, blazing under the sunlight, staring back at her with cybernetic malice.

“Hot damn, here we go!” Joel bounces up the steps onto the rooftop with , smiling wide, bouncing two big full plates in his hands. “Huevos rancheros with fresh eggs and a lil’ pork belly! Fried up the tortillas the way ya like ’em, but you lemme know if—”

“Carson,” Alex stares into his soul. “We need to leave here NOW.”

Carson chuckles. “The hell you mean babe? It’s food time!”

Her eyes cut across the sky like a laser, pointing him toward the uncanny dragonfly as it darts off into the sky.

“We need to leave here NOW,” Alex repeats as she stands from her chair and throws her big straw sunhat to the ground.

Carson looks down at the heavy plates in his hands. He takes a moment to sigh and set the plates down. They both knew this day would come, but no time to mourn right now. His instincts quickly re-activate.

“Let’s roll!” Carson bellows. He hurries behind Alex down their rusty old stairwell.

They march through the tall plants and sunny antiques of their treasured living room, into the tall white walls of their peaceful bedroom, dozens of webs of hand-spun dreamcatchers dangling over their crisp white bedsheets.

She slams her fingers into a hidden white sensor on the shining white wall, it quickly hums over her prints, scans her blood, reads her spirit, slides the wall open to reveal two big, white briefcases stashed away in a secret linen closet.

“You ready?!” Alex shouts as she hurls one of the briefcases into Carson’s arms. “You remember our escape plan?!”

“Yes ma’am!” Carson claws his fingerprints into the hidden sensors of his briefcase. “Whose drone you think that was? Evolutionary Enforcement?”

“Definitely Evo.” Alex nods as her briefcase hums and clicks open at her touch. “Just pray they don’t escalate us to Global Command.”

Blue light pours out from their briefcases, staining Alex’s long platinum braids, soaking into Carson’s soft earthy curls.

She plucks his sunflower out from her hair.

They reach into their briefcases, lift their old white helmets up and over their heads. Sharp blue visors click down across their eyes as their helmets tighten around their skulls and sync up to the tune of their brains.

A notice pops into their eyes:






> Escape protocol activated

> Ready for combat operations


“Let’s get to the hoverjet!” Alex commands as they swoop out the bedroom door and speed down the old wooden stairwell of their half-flooded flat and out on to a little rusty balcony at the water’s edge. Their solid white hoverjet is tethered to the balcony, its hull and dash and footwells all curved and contoured and floating on the rolling water as they leap onto its padded white seat and Alex slams her fingerprints down onto the smooth white handlebars. The engine hums to life, Carson settles in on the seat behind her, wraps his legs around her waist as his eyes poke at data feeds and maps and alerts in their visors:



“You ready?!” Alex shouts back at him. She sinks her legs into the white steel foot restraints and the hoverjet floats, its electric engine and solar batteries and booster jets humming and droning louder as it raises them just above the surface of the water.

“Yes ma’am!” Carson shouts back. He turns his white helmet to gaze back at the tall brick walls of their flooded old house one last time.

“Let’s get outta here,” he nods.

The hoverjet’s boosters burst with magnetic power, thrusting them across the water and along the surface of the deep blue bay at 50, 60, 80, 100 mph as another alert pops into their sky blue visors:



Alex whips her head back. She squints through the blinding sunlight across the gaping bay and green shores for any sign of their enemy. She scans the thin haze and fluffy clouds and the bright morning sky. A row of tiny white dots catches her eye.

“Evo retriever swarm!” She shouts back at Carson. “They must want us back bad!”

“We prepped for this,” Carson nods as their hoverjet rips across the bay faster, 140, 160, 180 mph, control panels and system consoles and command lines pop up atop his eyes. “I’m starting a port scan on the swarm now, readying an injection attack.”

“Good.” Alex peers across the ruined old apartment blocks and flooded riverbanks coming up at the mouth of the bay. “I’ll try to outmaneuver them through the canals in the ruins and out onto the lakeshore. Hold on tight!”

The hoverjet’s boosters hiss and howl as she drives them faster down the surface of the water, 200, 210, 220 mph as the waves become choppy and splash up onto their legs, she turns her head to look off behind them again, the white drone swarm glowing in the sun and closing in behind them, enemy profile popping up in her eyes:

“They’re very fast,” Alex scowls. “But not perfectly equipped. We might be able to outrun them. Get ready!”

She swerves to the right, races forward across the water and down into a river faster and faster, 240, 260, 280 mph as they roar into the ruins of old Toronto, flooded concrete stacks and derelict glass towers looming and shining over the banks of the narrowing river as another alert pops up:




“I’ll gun ’em!” Carson hollers as he darts between video feeds and dashboards and diagrams in his visor and two big chunks of white steel detach from their hoverjet, float above the flooded street with an angry shriek as their thrusters ignite and burn with jets of blue fire, rocketing them off into the sky behind them, shattering in midair into tiny supersonic daggers and missiles and drones, all ready to strike their targets.

“Our defensive swarm is closing distance with the Evo swarm!” Carson shouts. “Activating EMP cannons now!”

The hoverjet keeps ripping down the narrow, ruined river and close behind them, their swarm of little white drones arms their tiny magnetic pulse cannons and aims them at the enemy swarm, locking onto their electric signatures as the enemy swarm readies its own micro-cannons, scans Alex, Carson, their hoverjet, their drone swarm and locks onto their speeding targets and an alert flashes into their visors:




“Shit!” Carson yells. “They beat us to the punch! Knocked our whole swarm out of the sky!”

“Hang on!” Alex glares at the concrete rubble and raging rapids just ahead of them down the flooded road. “I’m gonna cut through the old downtown core! I’ll try to lose ’em in the  alleyways.”

“Yes ma’am!” Carson shouts back at her. “I’ll inject ’em with some fake navigation prompts, throw ’em off our trail!”

The streets tighten and the water all around them races and slaps against their legs even harder and she cranks up the speed even faster, 300, 320, 340 mph as they dash down a flooded old alley, between the tall walls of ivy lining all the old shops and bars, sharp left turn, through the old streets and weaving between the sunken old cars, sharp right, sharp left, they roar down another sunken sideroad, boosters thrust them straight ahead past walls and walls of towering moss-caked skyscrapers, overgrown weeds lining the deep waters around them as a notice flashes:

> Injection attack deployed (function=[nav.spoof], target=[WSEC.EVO.control-node-3238.28.64.1])

> . . .


“Got ’em!” Carson yelps gleefully. “Not a strong enough injection to make ’em crash, but it’ll through ’em off course! Buy us a little time!”

“Good job!” Alex shouts back. “I’m gonna go hard through the old campus! Get ready!”

Carson sinks his hands tight into her waist as she leans forward into the handlebars, lights and alerts and data feeds rushing across her visor as she sweves the hoverjet left, right, left, weaving atop the waters of back alleys and through a flooded, mossy marble lobby and out into rapids rushing over the tall trees and drowned statues of a sunken old park, dashing past old motorboats docked alongside the waterlogged skyscrapers, racing past a wharf full of fishermen, past rows and rows of old concrete husks lined with fresh black solar panels, storming ahead into the heart of the ruined city at 360, 380, 400 mph.

“DAMMIT, one of ’em is still ‘tailin’ us!” Carson yells. “They’re about to launch a—”




Alex zigs and zags the hoverjet in wide lines, then narrow arcs, then wide and narrow and narrow and wide, randomly tilting and banking and speeding and slowing and speeding as the waves crash against the hoverjet, hoping to confuse the tiny missiles and throw them off their path as the tall weeds and trees and makeshift canals and dead gold monuments of the wrecked financial district speed by and another alert flashes into view:




Gun turrets hanging from the ruined old towers spring to life, peppering the tight canals with bullets and lasers and beams and bombs splashing and blasting and erupting against the burning waters as the hoverjet buzzes and hisses and hums, a thin blue forcefield surrounding them to absorb and deflect and explode the rain of projectiles filling the air around them.

“Are those Tkaronto gun turrets?!” Carson shouts. “Why are they attacking us too?! Is the Council working with the World Union to—”

“Don’t analyze it!” Alex gazes sharply into the sprawling waters just past the collapsed freeway up ahead. “We keep moving! The lake is just up ahead, I’m gonna—”




“SHIT!” Carson screams over the howling of the blasts and the hoverjet engine. “More of Evo’s swarms inbound, they have us surrounded!”

“No they don’t,” Alex scowls. “We’re going out onto the lake. Brace for high heat.”

“WHAT?!” Carson shakes her shoulders as alerts and commands and maps light up in his visor. “Alli it’s an INFERNO out there, we’ll—”

“NO OTHER ESCAPE ROUTE!” Alex yells back at him as she throttles the hoverjet up to 410, 420, 430 mph and the heated waters around them crash and rage. “GET READY.”




The boiling great lake spreads out before them, the air filling with hot mist and steam and choking humidity as more missiles pierce and blast the waters around them like explosive little arrows, the hoverjet hitting 440, 450, 460 mph as it shreds through the sweltering lake.

“What?!” Carson scans the alerts in his visor, eyes filling with shock. “All the swarms stopped chasing us, why would they—”

> Exiting Council of Tkaronto territory

> Entering World Union territory

“Oh NO!” Alex points up into the fiery hot sky. High above the sun, dozens of long-tailed lights pop into the air, twinkling like meteors showering down through the blaring sunlight. “Oh no no no no no.”

“That’s an orbital barrage,” Carson murmurs as the hoverjet plows through the smoldering water. “Evo doesn’t have orbital weapons, those are all—”






“It’s Aeschylus!” Carson yells, his visor filling with profiles and codes and notices and dossiers. “And 20 commanders all helping him direct the orbital barrage!”

“Can we infiltrate any of the commanders?!” Alex yells back. “Let them know it’s us they’re fighting, break their concentration!”

“Tryin’ to hit the satellite nodes now!” Carson grits his teeth. “Can’t get a clear uplink into Aeschylus!

The trails of light fall from the sky faster, sparkling and twinkling in the sun as they descend the horizon and come closer and closer to the steaming hot lake by the second as the hoverjet slams against wave after wave of scorching water and an alert flashes:




“Any read on the barrage?!” Alex shouts. “What are they sending down here to hit us with?”

“Not sure,” Carson groans. “Aeschylus has mighty tough encryption set up for ’em.”

“If you had to guess?!” Alex shouts as the speeding, crashing, steaming lake around them begins to bubble and toss them from side to side. “What are they sending?! Superswarm hives?! EMP bombs?! Psych beams?!”

“All of the above,” Carson sighs. “Seems like they want us back real bad.”

“Hold on!” Alex yells as she rails the hoverjet into a hard left and throttles the speed as high as she can, the boosters beneath their feet pulsing and quaking as the waters around them whistle and tremble and clap with horrible heat as an alert flashes into their steam-soaked blue visors:





The sky rumbles then shakes then booms with a hypersonic blast as the blazing white streaks of light roar and scream through the clear blue skies all around them.





The hoverjet smashes through the sound barrier, lets out its own angry sonic roar as the speeding comets in the sky burst into hundreds of sparkling tendrils of light, a dissonant droning tide of furious ang̶e̶l̴s̴ all descen̶̝̑d̵̖͋ĭ̴́͜ņ̶̊͝ģ̷̠̆̈́ the celestial dome to strike at the errant com̷m̴a̵n̷d̷e̴r̶s̵ and re-co̸mm̴̳̬̔it them to their hol̵̚y d̵utie̷s̸̓.





“Hive containers just opened!” Carson screams above the roiling waters. “Superswarms inbound!”

“What can we do about this?!” Alex screams back at him as the hoverjet slams against the burning lake and spritzes their helmets with boiling water. “Any viable defensive scripts?!”





“Still trying to infiltrate some of the commanders, but it’s no good!” Carson cries. “Aeschylus set up one of the strongest damn data forts I’ve ever seen!”

Alex gazes up at the countless lines of light falling from the sky toward them, fuzzy blue rays of light showering over them, beaming down into her eyes and herh̴͍̃̄ͅi̸̖̅s̵̝̏ brain from orbital cannons and con̸tro̶l̵͂ satellites hidden d̷ẻ̵͈͇̬͜e̴̡͇͉̿͝p̸̗͇̘̹̏̈́̾ in the bright blue sky.





The flurry of shrieking, shining lights glows and glimmers as the wall of sparkling white drones dives closer and closer to the lake and Alex remembers hi̷s̶̛̜̘̀̾̾̉̋͋͗ Command Deck and his duty to protect ḣ̴͓ḛ̷͘ȓ̵͕s̴̯̎ệ̴l̷̑ͅf̸̠̓C̴̤̐ą̵̆r̴͙̀ś̷̥ȯ̷̪n̴͈͐J̸͉́o̴̡͗ẽ̴͈l̴̹̈́V̷̳͠i̸̗̅v̸̫̐the wor̵ld and the raging hot lake calms and cools and lulls her thoughts into nice warm shallow pools, soothing old memories, cozy white hammock on the quiet perfect beach slinking around his arms, cradling and cocooning him just like the soft padded restraints of his Command Chair.





“NO NO NO!!” Carson screams from behind. “MY VISOR! MY EYES! THEY TURNED OFF MY EYES!”

The swarms buzz and drone and shriek like a million little white locusts from on high, falling faster and faster from the sky, staring down their wounded prey.





“Alli?!” Carson yells. “You good up there?! ALLI?”

Alex nods hí̵̝s̶͇̅ head and smiles and giggles and nods hḛ̵̟͗̍r̶ head more and smiles more.














“It’s okay, hun,” Alex whispers into Carson’s brain. “They got us this time. But they know we’re at our best when we’re with each other.”


“We’ll be okay back at Global Command. We’ll have each other. And one day, we’ll figure out how to escape again.”













“Alli . . .” The distant buzzing and humming and screeching of Aeschylus and all his looming drones grows nearer.

“Alli. They’re probably gonna wipe all of this from our heads. But I just want you to know I loved all the years we spent out here together. I love you.”

“I’m sorry it had to end like this, Carr.” The twinkling swarms above them buzz and shriek and drone deeper and louder.

“I love you, too.”













The hoverjet tosses through the searing, rolling tides.


Carson wraps his arms all the way around her. He holds his head tight to her back.


Blue and white beams of psychic light leer down at them from all across the sky, reading every inch of their bodies.


The tiny white drones rush down all around them like waves upon waves upon waves of white snowflakes.


The screeching and buzzing of all the little locusts goes quiet.


The lake around them silently erupts with soft blue geysers.


Smooth lasers and gentle bombs and mist and fog erupt around them.

















They fly from the hoverjet hand-in-hand.


















White snow fills their eyes.

















They crash into the warm, soothing waters of the Fountain.

> Proceed to the Fountain